Now that the transfer window is closed; journalists, pundits and fans are picking over the bones of the summer activity, and for once, it’s not Newcastle that is under the spotlight.
I saw a newspaper article years ago – long before the Ashley years – in which a journalist put forward a theory, that there were two immutable laws of the Premier League. They were:
- Two clubs must always be “in crisis”
- One of them must always be Newcastle
It’s hard to say that he was wrong.
The last decade and more, have given the average Newcastle fan a whole host of reasons to be cynical. Mad owners, bad coaches, selling good players, buying bad players and so on. And it will take more than one transfer window to rid us of the suspicion that the next crisis is just around the corner.
But I detect that most fans are giving the club the benefit of the doubt once again. We moved earlyish in the transfer market, and have probably spent the start of the season laughing up our sleeves while manure, Chelsea and Spurs have underachieved by their standards.
Arsenal fans think they are a striker short, and the mackems are holding Newcastle up as an example of how a club should behave in a transfer window. And that’s just funny.
So even though – at the time of writing – we are in the relegation zone with as many red cards as PL goals, I detect most fans feel a lot happier than they have done at any point in the past few years.
McClaren seems to have got the team better organised and more committed. To paraphrase a line from a widely seen banner, we look like we have a team that tries.
Our new head coach also seems to say the right things, comes over as a decent bloke who knows what he is doing, and does it for the fans rather than his own self-aggrandisement.
One of the more significant things I have noticed among my group of friends, is that the focus of our matchday fulminations has shifted a little away from Mike Ashley and the management team, and more onto the players. Which – in my view – is as it should be.
I didn’t start going to football to talk about owners, coaches, sponsors and revenue.
We have held on to the key components of our first team squad, which won’t please everyone, but the players I feared may be sold on – Perez, Janmaat, Aarons – are still in place, and never really looked like going anywhere.
Most of us could come up with a list of 3 or more players that we’d have been happy to lose, but I’m not going to whine that they are still here.
A blind man can see we need a new central defender, ideally with the height of a Williamson and the ability of a Coloccini, but I’m not sure that there is a rich seam we can mine there.
Defenders always take a long time to find their way in the Premier League (Coloccini struggled like mad when he arrived) as it’s all about discipline, position and shape, and it would be a big risk to chuck another new face in alongside Mbemba.
Attacking players (think Asprilla, Ben Arfa, Aarons) can be thrown on, told to go do their stuff, and become instant hits. But this must be the top priority next May, if not in January.
I know there is a view that we needed to sign another striker (at this rate, to jobshare with Mitrovic, who looks set to miss half the season through suspension), but I don’t think our need is as great there as in defence.
As for the players we have signed, I like what I’ve seen of Mbemba and Wijnaldum. They look readymade for the PL, although the former is always going to struggle against a Pellè or a Fellaini.
I never mind us taking a Bigirimana, a Kemen or a Vučkić, even if it doesn’t work out. If you’ve ever seen the reserves play, you get to see how big the gulf between the second team and the PL is.
I recall second string games in which a recovering Ryan Taylor, a sick Gutierrez, and even Xisco and Luque (yes, him) looked head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch.
It’s a massive jump to be a Premier League player, and the odds of Lascelles and Tomey making it are statistically tiny, but it’s a risk worth taking in my view. Ideally, we would find those players in Newcastle and North Shields rather than Nottingham and Northampton, but that’s a discussion for another day.
There is a touch of the “Hail Mary” about Mitrovic and Thauvin.
Talented but flawed in much the same way as the aforementioned Asprilla and Ben Arfa, in my view. I need to see Mitrovic getting more service from teammates and fewer cards from referees before I am convinced, but he looks like a Premier League striker to me.
Thauvin has ticked a lot of boxes so far, and looks a snip at £12m compared to the £36m manure paid for Martial.
There are 2 descriptions that have followed him over the channel. He is prodigiously talented and he is prodigiously moody. Hopefully, he will see his move to Newcastle United as the clean slate (or maybe even the last real opportunity) he needs to show the world what he’s got.
Right now, he has the good wishes of every Newcastle fan ringing in his ears, and I’d like to think that that will still be the case in May.
My take? It feels like I am supporting a real club again.
We have bought talent, we kept the players we wanted to, and we have improved the squad. No doubt we missed a target or two, some of the new signings may not come off, and there are probably a few players that we’d have preferred to ship out.
But – for now at least – SJP seems a more exciting place than it did.
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